Interview with Frank Colenso


Interview with Frank Colenso


Frank Colenso grew up in Cornwall and worked for a local newspaper at the outbreak of the war. He recalls the return of injured survivors from Dunkirk into Falmouth Bay. He joined the local defence volunteers following the bombing of Falmouth and describes training and weaponry within the Home Guard and civil defence precautions. He volunteered to serve with the RAF and trained as an fitter airframe and served with 83 Operational Training Unit. He discusses modifying Wellington aircraft, prior to being posted to Burma to serve with repair and salvage units. He speaks of the living conditions in Burma and of his work there which included repairing Spitfires and Hurricanes. After the war ended he remained in Burma as his unit was part of the Commonwealth occupation force prior to his demobilisation in 1946.




Temporal Coverage




02:36:39 audio recording


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PL: Hello and, and first of all an enormous thank you. My name is Pam Locker I’m in the home of Mr Frank Colenso of [redacted]. Frank it’s wonderful that you have agreed to talk to us today and so a big thank you on behalf of the Bomber Command digital archive.
FC: Thank you for inviting me.
PL: It’s a pleasure.
FC: To do that.
PL: So, I guess what I, where I’d like to start Frank is to ask you a little bit about your family and, you know, a little bit about your childhood.
FC: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, I come from a very old Cornish family. There’s a lot of names with ‘o’ on the end but we’re not Italian. My, I was brought up in Falmouth in Cornwall. My dad was a boiler maker in the Falmouth docks. So, I was a young lad at school, in the scouts, a choir boy in the Parish church. A boy scout for many years and then when I started work at fourteen it was as a recovery porter on the Falmouth Packet weekly newspaper. So, the, the reporter there was Alan, doesn’t matter, he was, I, I started the job in February 1939, when I was fourteen and a half and left school. So, on the newspaper, Alan the reporter was showing me the ropes and he was in the territorial associate, the territorial army so as we went through 1939 and the war was imminent in the UK and Alan was off to war so for, for the next two years I was on my own as a, but it was a wartime rationing of paper we had not a lot of space for much news mostly it was funerals and whist drives and things like this, council meetings and such. So, then when the war broke out that year and Dunkirk happened with all the rescue allied forces from the Dunkirk area, scores of ships came into Falmouth Bay and they off loaded and the soldiers, and they were processed and given some clean clothes I guess and put on the train. So constant trains going up country from Falmouth. And my mother was a red cross nurse at the time and she was nursing these survivors from that awful time. Very much a, upset by the soldiers especially those who had swallowed fuel oil in sea water, in a bad way. So, here we are 1940 and Falmouth was bombed. The town was bombed, people killed and because the Germans were on our doorstep almost the reaction the day afterwards for hundreds and hundreds of men to join the local defence volunteers along with us young lads. Not quite sixteen some of us, so but they took us all on into the local defence volunteers and started to give us something to do. In the initial few days we were cycle patrol with an old vicar with his automatic from World War 1 which only had about eight rounds. He was our leader, so we drove, rode around the high ground round Falmouth at night, especially at night. Watching out for people setting up lights to align a bomber with say Falmouth harbour or the town or whatever. But I think the Germans wouldn’t possibly not wrecked Falmouth all the dock and repair facilities so they aimed for the town. Because they wanted a deep-water harbour and that Falmouth is the only one down that way. So that was background. We were well trained. We immediately had the sergeants all had tommy guns. The officers had side arms, the revolvers or automatics. We had American Springfield 300 calibre rifles with fifty rounds of ammunition in, in a cloth round our ear and we were well trained. We were always at the range shooting regularly and when we were kitted out gradually with uniform, boots and everything a soldier has. Well almost everything. We were well trained we was parade nights twice a week. Firing on a range Saturday afternoon. They formed us into platoons and they started at night guards around six different parts around the town from the looking across the bay to the high ground and along the low ground on the little Penryn river. So that was a pattern of my Home Guard thing was every six nights night guard. Along with that we would do with the Army exercises with the Army which got us used to the whole area around Falmouth because we drove to all the little paths and by ways and short cuts and where the high hedges were. So, you could form an ambush then. Throw all the stuff you had on with a few little turnips from the field and then just disappear because that’s the point about you really you don’t stand and fight. You get them worried that wherever they go there’s a shadow that might be us or somebody else. So that was the pattern of it. But we were well armed, we had, we had grenades and [unclear] bombs. We had mortars, spigot mortars that could fire twelve pound or eighteen pound bomb. We had what we called Vickers machine guns. The newest guns which was like an aircraft type gun, 300 calibre. We had something like phosphorus bombs. One of the bombs had five-pound weight of gelignite in it in a glass sphere. There was sticky bombs which you threw and if you threw them hard enough you took the covering off to stick on things and explode. We’d have done ourselves no favours using these things, but this was desperate times. The Germans had come right through across into France, all up as far as Norway and down towards the whole French Coast. And we were next, they were unstoppable except they had to defeat the Air Force before they could think of crossing the Chanel. So that was the pattern of the first bombing of Falmouth started the Battle of Britain, early July 1940. So that was the bombing in Falmouth. We got used to it. You were, took notice of the, the air raid warning the warbly siren and you dressed, undressed very tidily because we only had candles in the bedrooms and of course in air raid you don’t light up candles you’d got to be able to put your clothes on in the dark. So, you took your clothes off and laid them out in the right order and you were the worse and we got dressed. We had a little attaché case with odds and things in case you were blown out of your house and we took shelter next door in Cliff Roberts’ house. We were a terrace house, he’d built a huge air raid shelter in his garden. Being a deep-sea diver from the docks he’d brought a great lorry load of wood home, dug a big hole in the garden, lined it and covered it over with massive beams and that’s — Dad sawed through the fence to make a little gate. So, air raid meant we dressed, took our little attaché cases, went downstairs, through the gate into the shelter and the next-door below us was a tug boat skipper, one of the Falmouth harbour tugs. He dug a big hole, helped by his two sons and cleverly when they got a bit tired, I suppose, Mr White would find a half crown, so that made the boys do a bit more digging. And I realised, I didn’t think about it, I thought that was real treasure they were finding but I think the crafty Dad he wanted to [laughs] keep them shovelling. So, he was — that was the pattern of bombing. We weren’t allowed to write up about things like that in the newspaper but inevitably wrote about the funerals. One occasion which I didn’t put in my diary, if you imagine a stick of bombs, a stick of four bombs, one landing, I think on the boards, boarding house school. Anyway, it wrecked that school. One was in the quarry. The next one was, we were exactly in line, the next one was a hundred yards away which flattened a house and killed the occupants. So that was a narrow escape. In the early bombing as well in Falmouth my pal who was in the scouts with me and at school, Jeff Maynard. He was in Lister Street with, along with two relations who had come down from London to escape the bombing and that particular raid, parts of the town, his house was completely blown apart and collapsed on them. They were under the stairs which was a strong point, recommended to be and the gas main had been fractured. The water system pipes were broken, so they were faced with the water and gas leaking. They were dug out by the rescue, volunteer rescue parties and luckily not requiring hospital treatment. They were found a house in the, in the country about three or four miles away in Constantine and now Jeff was due to start work in — where my brother worked in Burts the electricians which was only three hundred yards from his house, so when this happened, he had to get the bike out. But we were all cyclists. We cycled patrol. Only lasted a few, a few weeks to give us something to do. But we were well trained. We had Army instructors, we had all these weapons that we learnt. We did grenade throwing and mortar usage, using mortar. So then and along with this night exercises perhaps which meant we’d just come off night guard because of six nights, each day was different and there was an exercise that started Saturday afternoon with the Army and ran all through the night until Sunday morning when they hoped to finish it, so we could get home for our Sunday dinner. That was the pattern of it. So, you were very tired at times but that was it, that’s normal to be quite — and you were cold sometimes on guard because, it was before we had greatcoats, we would have a blanket round our shoulders, patrolling along the cliffs. With these little glow worms sometimes but for the first bit of a town boy your night sky is just a few stars here and there but when you are out in the country and there is no other light from anything else that big ball in the sky is something you’ve never seen before. So, this was the pattern. Along with this was all the newspaper work, meetings, council meetings all sorts of evening affairs. I had to write about court cases and I was getting half a crown a week. I, I started as an apprentice you see, and I was bringing myself up really. Well I was on my own. So, this was six pence a day but I was never broke. I think I gave my money, my mother something as well and we were lucky. The Cornish Echo was the paper that operated from Falmouth and I was very friendly with Bill Ward their reporter and of course typically we worked together. We always met at court cases and things. In fact, for court cases, if I sent my copy up to the Western Morning News by putting it on the train I was paid a penny a line and I was often getting more with my, whatever you call it, sending my material up to them than I was [laughing] but then that was [unclear] no [unclear] really. So, with the, with the shooting I became quite expert. I was a sniper, we were snipers in the, in my platoon, and so that when — later on it was time to decide what I wanted to do because conscription was looming and if you could volunteer before then you went where you chose to go. So, my pal Bill had — older than I, he was a grammar school boy, so better suited to be training as a reporter really, than a young lad with me like I was. Now, he was a bomb aimer on 50 Squadron later on. My other pal, Nick, whose father was in the Bristol Aeroplane Company a roaming repair and modifications man, he was down on — working on [unclear]. On a Beaufighter. And he said if you come down to the Lizard Peninsular where the big scanners are now, you come down and I’ll show you round the Beaufighter. And whatever else is there so. These, these places weren’t fenced. So, you just came across and of course it’s a treat for young lads of fifteen or sixteen to get inside an aircraft like the Beaufighter for instance. Anyway, he showed us around the, also Vulcan and Hurricane which was another fleet. So, later on Nick’s dad said I’m going to take you up to London, he said I’ll ensure you get on the train I shall meet you at Exeter where you change, and we’ll go to the Windmill Theatre, there’s something to somebody, somewhere we can stay so that then this happened. We went to the Windmill Theatre which was a, we never close was the motto. And the attraction there was the nude, the nudes on the stage. So [laughs] but they weren’t moving, they weren’t allowed to move just graceful poses. So, you can imagine that with the gauzy screens, I suppose, in front. I can’t remember quite but no doubt a clever way of screening the fine detail of them and then when there was a little interval and people were leaving in the rows of seats. If there was an empty seat in front of you the men would clamber over to get into it because when they had a few intervals they got nearer and nearer the action [laughs] or the inaction [laughs]. So that was one episode and my memory I took away of all things, not about the nudes but about Vic Oliver, who’s the son in law of Churchill who was a comedian and played a violin and he could do most marvellous things with that violin. He could make it laugh [laughs] which had us in hysterics really to hear himself. This was the world of darkness it was then during the war. So back home again it wasn’t long before Mick’s dad said you get a job in the, in the Bristol Aeroplane Company because with all you do your in work, you’re in your workshop all the time making things. Because I made a half scale tommy gun for Nick’s nephew and in fact, because I could copy the detail in, I was obviously capable of making it from scraps of things. I made myself early on a practice rifle. The right weight of ten or eleven pounds to strengthen up my old muscles because I was a little weedy eight and a half stone when the, in 1939. Later on, when I went to join the Air Force I was well over, well about ten stone plus. So, I did volunteer, no I did go to Weston-super-Mare for an interview and of all things to show how nimble and clever I was with my fingers I brought a cigarette lighter that I’d made, not really knowing that this was a joke. Everybody around the country would say all they do is make cigarette lighters in the factories so anyway the, then I had a letter to take me on and then I had another letter. The, all our recruiting has been taken over by the government so that agreement is not valid now. So that’s when I joined, I volunteered to be an air gunner. Went to the normal medical at Plymouth and then later on went to Oxford for an aircrew medical when they discovered that my left eye was below standard and my right ear. So, thinking back all these seventy odd years later really, that, that saved my life, that bad eye saved my life really because as we know half of the Bomber Command people never came back. So that was, so as I was unfit for aircrew and so stamped on my document, I believe, then I could have a choice of what I wanted to do. What trade for instance. And I chose to be airframe. Airframe mechanic to start with because Nick’s dad said if you’re an airframe fitter, it’s a use, such a useful thing to know and after the war you can turn your hand to anything. And, in fact, it proved right really. So that was my time when I was called up go to Padgate up around Manchester way, I believe, as a recruit to be kitted out and do a bit of marching about, I guess and, so that was the first time that I was in a hut with about twenty odd others. But really as I had been in the Home Guard with sleeping in a guard room every six nights with the noise that goes on and the bustle that happens at times, it’s no big deal. Same as being shouted at on the parade ground, that was nothing new. Whereas it was bit of a great culture shock for a lot of chaps first coming into it. So, I took all that in my stride. So, the recruits then, new recruits were off to Blackpool, billeted in the landladies houses, you would first of all when you arrived and got, got into a situation where you marched down these streets. They would halt and right fourteen of you in here. That’s how they set you off in the different houses and the landladies were I’m sure occupied all through the war. Which is why they were after the war able to have so many marvellous changes, I would guess that happened. So that was it, but you see Blackpool was marvellous it was the only place, one of the seaside places that civilians could come to. The aircrew chose Torquay as their initial training and Torquay itself was barred from anybody coming, the beaches were all mined, mined here and there. Well a lot of mines and they had big obstacles to prevent ships landing, landing ships coming in. So, but Blackpool with all its electric trams going up and down the long, long coast sparkling away at night, must have been a great giveaway. But often the Germans didn’t get across that far. So that was a marvellous place, four shillings a day was our pay, I think, but beer was I think, maybe went up to nearly a shilling a pint. Anyway, imagine the tower, Blackpool Tower, now inside the marvellous ballroom and we couldn’t dance but there were nine bars there and they were so busy, if you, when you wanted to get a drink you were, there was two deep in front of you at least and close packed, trying to catch a barmaid’s eye. Anyway,but it was such a friendly place and when Christmas came and New Year this was a great place where a lot of kissing went on and hugging and kissing so good for us young lads it was a real eye opener really ‘cause we weren’t into girls before then, we had boys’ things to do. We had the Home Guard to keep us busy. So, this was an adventure then. So, one of these girls was from Bury in Lancashire, an ATS girl. Yes, we palled up and I saw her a few times. Only kissing and cuddling, nothing beyond that. And then later on, a year later on in Burma when I found this tower, Blackpool Tower beer label and on the back, she’d written her address. So, I started corresponding and we had lovely exchange of letters and she was a great poet. She would write marvellous poetry. And then another girl that I was also friendly with later on, in Wellington, I wrote her, and that was a nice little friendly exchange of letters but that’s digressing really. This early recruit training, stamping of feet around the [unclear] whereas out on the parade ground there was a lot of swearing went on. In Blackpool ‘cause you’d march around the streets and did your square bashing there the, the one in command had to watch his, watch his language. But he often marched us to a particular café for the break time, so that meant he would have his free, free [unclear] and we paid a tuppenny of course. We had to have a bath Fridays, Fridays and Mondays because they would march us to the big communal baths there with a swimming pool of course, that was a great attraction. Derby Baths, I think. So, we did our training there, the assault courses. We were shooting, we were running around, which was making us fit. Basically, it was keeping us fit. And also, when you think, stop to think about it on a parade ground when you respond to every order immediately that sets you up for the pattern of the future when you do, you respond to what your asked to do without question. That’s the point of it I think. And then from there I went to Western-super-Mare where Locking is the training, one of the schools of technical training. So that was in the summer of forty-three I suppose. Yes, it was. And we were in huts there and in the mornings when we woke up and had breakfast we marched to the, where the school was with a band in front of us. So, this was a great place for being a seaside place, a lot of people there. It was in the summer especially but we spent a lot of money on the dodgem cars. It eats up your money really when you don’t get much a day [laughs]. Cuts down your money for beer or cider and then one time coming from a local village, walking back west to Locking I kept wanting to take my greatcoat off, lay it on the white line on the road and lie down on it. So that was, I had to be dissuaded of that was not a good idea. Because all the vehicles headlights were havoc, were completely masked except for a narrow slit which was guarded from going upwards by a, like a peak of a cap.
PL: Um.
FC: So, they didn’t produce much light so that was I’ll explain why it’s there, I would do as I was told. But the cider was a powerful drink [laughs]. So, from there a group of us, we were all airframe mechanics, we went, we were sent up to, to, to Shropshire, to Peplow. An airfield which was half way between Wellington and Market Drayton. Wellington is now Telford. The big city of Telford since we were there. And this was, we were, we went there as part of 83 Operation Training Unit, because Wellington twin engine bombers but we hadn’t got any. So those early weeks we were, I suppose, the advance, in advance of the advanced party, really, ‘cause they were recycling themselves from Wales where they were based to there so we were getting things ready. Did meet my old friend who, when I got, I can see his face now, the morning after I got the worse for wear I can see that disgust on his face now. So that’s a reminder that I shouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t drink too much [laughs]. So that was a, a waiting time, working and waiting. We only had one Wellington there in a hangar with both wings off so and that wasn’t anything to learn from. Anyway, they did come and we settled in to some work then with the flying, daily inspections before flight, before flight the inspections turn round inspections and after flight inspections. Flying night time as well because they were doing navigation and working the crew up to a, to work together as part of it. So, but we only had a few other visiting aircraft come so it was only the Wellingtons and about time when they came back, we had all the engines had to be covered every night with a big, like an aluminium cover, balloon fabric with asbestos patches where it would come over the hot exhaust pipes. So that was a task at night in the wind trying to get these covers on.
PL: What was that for Frank?
FC: The reason for covering them over was to keep the moisture out of the engine otherwise the electrics, I think that was a good reason and they wouldn’t — the oil wouldn’t be, wouldn’t be as cold because turning over, if the oil is thick and cold it takes more effort to turn it over by the starter motor so there’s a reason for it. So really, we didn’t have real contact with the crew. We just helped, just supported the ladder as they climbed in, I guess and normal conversation I expect but no, not much memory of any detail of them. But once starting, once started and the signal for chocks away we pulled the chocks away, waved it off and did our salute as they moved, as they gathered speed, so and this main runway, though I think it was newly, newly made because it was completely tarred with, tarred with a black pitch and then covered with oak chips, oak wood chips which were then rolled in. Now, what that was for, thinking back afterwards, partly it could be to camouflage a new runway ‘cause it sticks out like a sore thumb when its new concrete. Might have been that. But certainly, it proved to be a good thing to save tyre wear. You imagine with our training lots of circuits and bumps around the take-off, circle round and landing, you know scores, scores of landings went on that wouldn’t otherwise have gone on with a flight, a flight of Wellingtons. So then, from there I went to Blackpool again to upgrade to a fitter 2A, fitter 2A airframe, so that was more time at Blackpool and that covered Christmas as well so a bit of a repeat, but in the meantime, we decided we must learn dancing. So, at Blackpool, over one of the shops was Madam somebodies dancing academy, so there we were learning the quickstep and the waltz and the foxtrot whatever and I have wrote, written in my diary that I am getting quite good at the waltz, but I haven’t tried it with a girl yet. So, but you can imagine the tower, the marvellous ballroom there, same as the Winter Gardens, sort of a up market place that had all those facilities and a huge dance floor and stage for the band. The whole place was crowded. The bars were crowded sometimes two or three deep waiting, trying to get a drink and no wonder sometimes we drunk these bars dry. So that was where our money went and then in my diary, I realised that I would occasionally draw ten shillings out of my Post Office account to keep my appetite for the old John Barleycorn [laughs]
PL: So, what were you doing at Blackpool when you returned to Blackpool?
FC: When I returned, we went to Wharpton[?] on buses and there, there was another school of technical training. I think it was Wharpton[?] but since called Warton, and so we were doing benchwork and my diary reminds me that I was nearly top of the class for different things like this because I had always been making and mending things as a boy, even when I was a reporter I spent a lot of time in my workshop making this tommy gun, half size tommy gun and making myself an automatic pistol, but it wouldn’t have been automatic but to fire, point two-two ammunition, but prior to that with my little cap gun, made of a steel castings probably put together for a roll of caps. I modified this pistol by drilling a hole where the hammer struck, just the size of a point two-two blank cartridge and then the hammer I drilled it so that I provided it with a spike which, when you, when you discharged, when you pulled the trigger that set the round off but I made a mistake really. I should have had it in the vice when I first fired it but I was holding it like you would and when I fired it really when you think about it there was no where particular for the, for the, blast to go, all it could do was to throw the side, pivoted side part of it off and crack, crack it off to my finger, so I thought I won’t, I won’t use that again.
PL: So, what were you making at the technical school?
FC: We were doing, we were doing filing. We had to file within a few thousands of an inch or even less. You were drilling, you were making brackets shapes, folding metal, drilling the holes, riveting, getting the, the idea of the rivet clearance hole and so on and riveting up and you were judged on the final product. So that’s where I got top marks again. So, I graduated, if that’s the word, we never used that, came away with a, with the upgrade which I think it gave me six pence a day more which was well worth it. So then back to the, back to Peplow, carrying on with the and then I was in modifications section and the diary reminds me that we’d start picking dual control on a Wellington on one morning we’d work all day, all evening, right through the night until six o’clock or so in the morning when we’d finished the job. We made provisionally an extra seat in that position because normally the pilot sits on the left with easy access for the crew down to the bomb aimers section and up to the front turret, but once the seat was in it was a bit of a squeeze to get by so we fitted an extra control column linked with the first pilots’ and another job we did in the modifications thing was strengthen up the under-carriage attachment structure. Where the under carriage pivoted from to, to be trapped that had to be reinforced. The radius rod which braces the length once it’s locked down, that structure was cracking. There was a, actually there was a heavy landing or any landing that was the, the main attachment pivot point and the radius rod attachment rod were trying to spread themselves. So, we, the modification was to strap a diagonal strut to strap between the two fittings which had I think three quarter bolts on it and my diary records that we did this Wellington in, on one side in eight and a half hours. So typically, with modifications seems to take time to do the first one but once you get the swing of it. And then because, because once we did that the aircraft had to have a test flight which meant all the crew positions had to be occupied, not just the pilot and his engineer. So, I was in the tail turret for this first flight I’d ever done, proudly stroking the, the gun butts, for the, the machine guns in there. So, we took off happily and we circled, climbed, circled and did different manoeuvres and looking over the fields for the first time from above it’s a real eye opener. Then there was an aircraft coming from behind, a single engine aircraft, I can’t remember what on earth it was but it was overhauling us from the star, from our starboard side and I knew, I knew you, you must never point guns unless you really mean, from the Home Guard you never pointed guns but in this case I was the hero with a wicked German and I was following him in the gun sights, I mean there was no ammunition, following him in the gun sights until he came along side by which time the turret was at right angles and there was an enormous bang behind me. And a rush of wind, a terrific rush of wind and what it was I hadn’t latched the doors, two doors together properly, which I mean it must have happened with lots and lots of other people at the time, so I nursed the turret back in line and scrambled, round to try and shut the doors because when it flew open and I looked over my shoulder at the green fields farm, you know, I only had a three or four inch strap around my waist and the chute, parachutes is clipped inside the aircraft in a bracket, so you’re a bit on your own there if you want to jump out. Not a happy place for anyone to be when things are happening for real. So, this is one of those things that the story must, must have been told endlessly if the doors flying open [long pause]. So, the pattern —
PL: So, so the point, what was the, what was the purpose of the test flight?
FC: Well the test flight was to, to operate the controls. We did other —
PL: Dual controls?
FC: We did other things regarding the rigging as well.
PL: Right.
FC: The, now, the undercarriage knock down selection [pause] it pulled the flaps, I think, partly down it was all through the aircraft, with all its trim somehow with its undercarriage dangling down, so it was linked up with the flaps but the, the, the point was if the — yeah, if they were flying and with the, with the trim controls, that was the other edges wasn’t it? Anyway, if you were flying and you operated the tail trimmer and then [emphasis] selected the undercarriage down, if you operated the tail trim too much and the flap and the undercarriage came down it would pull on the cable to do what it thought it had to do and it meant the cable snapping so it finished up with a spring strut being put in the cable somewhere I believe. But the Wellington was very touchy when you jacked it up in the hangar you had to, you had to know what you were doing. The jacking point typically you would think is on the point of balance but then that’s not a happy thing to do. You need weight on the tail when you’re jacking so because of this reason it depends, if you’ve got your engines in, it’s different to when you have got no engines in, but you had to watch jacking that you didn’t let it, let it tip so. It was a case of securing the tail wheel down till you were safely jacked and then the retraction we did, adjustments we had to make, the hydraulics all new to us we were learning how everything worked. We — when you fly the Wellington and if you think of a, perhaps a better with a low light coming across the wings you realise then what, how an aeroplane works, you get reduced pressure on the top side and increased pressure underneath. You realise then that being a fabric covered wing and geometric construction which is like a lattice work you looking across the wing, it’s like looking across a quilt on your bed, it’s all in squares, little square humps and you think it’s, that’s holding the blessed aircraft up that fabric. So, it’s well laced on.
PL: Um, um.
FC: It’s well secured, and the Wimpey could take a lot of damage. We didn’t have any damaged aircraft coming back to our patch because but, the, this design proved itself. If you had a big hole blown in it, it destroyed these, this lattice work then it wasn’t terminal for the aircraft. The strains could be shared up with whatever was there.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: And then they went — the ones that had an engine fire and maybe burnt the fabric off, burnt the fuselage fabric off right into the tail plane they would still get back.
PL: Good gracious. There’s sometimes you’d have aircraft coming back, and it was really a skeleton.
FC: Yes, I know. Maybe just one, one tail plane and a bit of an elevator to control. But they were sort of an all laid back aircraft in the air. They were moving a bit, when you’d, a lot of aircraft when you look back towards the tail, it’s like a, a ship at sea. They describe a little square pattern, repeated pattern, on a ship. I mean later on a troop ship, sleeping on deck the mast and the stars they would be making little squares in the sky. But certainly, as I said the, the, the low sun across the wing made you realise that you been,the aircraft had been supported by it.
PL: Um, um. So, can you take a guess at how many Wellingtons you converted to dual control?
FC: No, I didn’t record it you see I didn’t have room for recording things like that. It was all about the, the drinking and the dancing and the meeting of different ones.
PL: [laughing]
FC: Now one night, I’d forgotten about this. On one diary entry I’d drawn a picture of a brooch with a nice letter ‘M’ with wings. That was for one of the good girls that I was with and then, Marjorie, and then when I’d finished it, I mean in the diary it gives me away what type of chap I am. I, it came up so good, the words are in the diary, but that it’s too good to give to Marjorie. I’ll wait till I find another girl with a letter ‘M’ [laughs]. But in fact, I gave it to my mother.
PL: Oh
FC: Her second name was May but I said this is ‘M’, ‘M’ for mother.
PL: Oh, how lovely.
FC: [laughs]
PL: So how long, how long were you a flight engineer?
FC: I wasn’t a flight engineer, ground engineer.
PL: Ground engineer, sorry.
FC: Well this was once I was a classed as airframe fitter, fitter to airframe then, then I said farewell to my pal I joined up with, Jeff Grinden, of all things had taken his tenor saxophone with him, like musicians do.
PL: Um.
FC: Because he had a marvellous life, like pancake. We had a mountain of spuds to peel, Jeff would be tootling away on his saxophone. He’d go to the bands that were playing music for the, for the Officers’ Mess or whatever and of course abroad he had it all the time he was abroad. When, when we parted company at Bombay he went with others to the Cocos Islands on a Liberator Squadron in fact. But on the, when we were, the draft that I was in to go to Blackpool again, the ready crew, the ship from the Clyde at Gourock I think. That was at Blackpool again. So that’s where I said farewell to Jeff. Who was at the next town up from Blackpool. I went there, I shouldn’t have left the area really, strictly but said my farewells. Then my train to Gourock, or Gradock or whatever, whichever it was. There I was lumbered up with all my webbing packed up with backpack, haversack, kit bag on my shoulder trying to find G deck and A deck, A deck’s the lifeboat deck, a long way down. Coming down this wide, quite wide stairways, there was a chap coming towards me and I moved to the side and he moved to the side and we stopped. And I looked up and it was Jeff, so he was on the same troop ship [laughs]. Oh yes, G deck was a long way down.
PL: So how, just trying to clarify how you moved from working on Wellingtons. So, did that work come to an end?
FC: Oh no, we just —
PL: So, so how did you get to be on a —
FC: Well in my case, I didn’t know it at the time, they needed well over two hundred upgraded fitters 2A.
PL: Right.
FC: Airframe people. They did over two hundred airframe people to put them on a 9613B, now why did I think of that. Well our kit bags had it on. And on the troop ship we had instructions from the CG-4A Waco glider, a small glider.
PL: Right.
FC: Because we going, this was for Burma, for the going into Burma. So, we had all the instruction on it and then we got to Worli, to Bombay, Worli is a huge transit camp for people leaving and coming in. And when the dhobi wallahs came around in the huts asking for our clothes to be washed we innocently, naively gave them all our sweaty old clothing and when we — later on, we saw about four acres of khaki spread out to dry in the sun. So, but they had a clever code, they’d invented their own sort of barcode amongst themselves. Just a pattern of dots inside the collar perhaps and then on the, from the outside troops, I mean it was a four-year tour when I went, a four-year tour. They were, they wanted to raise some sterling, so they were selling things off and one, I bought a topi, a pith helmet, flat, sort of thick with a flattish top with a RAF [unclear] with an RAF flash on it. I don’t know how many — how much that was. Another one was Irish linen, a stone coloured suit in the RAF pattern which is starched. Very smart. So I bought that off him. I can’t just think what else. But I was proud to wear that suit, I’ve got pictures of it. So, in India, that’s right, that’s right, about eight or so of us airframe fitters went up to, to, to 144 repair and salvage unit which was based at the time at Risalpur, North West Frontier Province as we used to know it. Right by Afghan border where the, where the Khyber Pass starts.
PL: Um.
FC: Nowshera is a town across the Kabul river. So that was our first of the Indian town we went in, and I remember the cinemas there with Indian films and then there was a big pre-war army, army station with, with lots of facilities there, marvellous billiards rooms. We had our barrack blocks had a wide veranda, a covered veranda and a big rack to put your rifles in to lock them up and pegs over each bed to put your harness or whatever these cavalry people needed to have with them and we had our own bearer there we paid about six annas a week, of course clubbed together with a dozen of us. We had the young lad guarding our possessions and keeping the, keeping it clean. And then we got used to the Indian char wallah coming around with — on his shoulder was a harness arrangement, he carried an urn with a, with a heated, heated urn to, to serve up hot tea and egg, egg sandwiches [laughs]. So that was a good place and then Christmas came again celebrated with the officers coming round serving up the grub I suppose and 35MU was also based there. The maintenance unit. While we were there on the Frontier we were, we were, our particular party, working on the Hurricane doing a major inspection and completely recovering the fuselage with fabric, that was our task. And that had flown all the way from Burma. What they did, the aircraft in Burma that came to, need repair or whatever stage of air worthiness it was, if they had the, the time left on the major inspection date and could do it, they could fly as far as they could. They wouldn’t want to put all the aircraft into the first repair unit, so that distributed all across India. It went on, there was a three and a half year campaign, so you imagine it was a lot of work for the set up for the, right across India and of course that then was a good start when they started their own airlines later on. They had a lot of, a lot of experience in aircraft. So that was a, a memory that, and that aircraft turned up in Burma later when I was told to, when I was told to do something on this Hurricane when I was in central, lower Burma [pause] yes it, as you approach it you see how it settles, just checking the whole thing you walk around the aircraft checking things and typically you’d give it a slap underneath the fabric areas to check whether there was any water in there. So when I came to this Hurricane which had on its [unclear] a long piece of cord on the trailing edge on top of the trailing edge [unclear] and I said to myself ‘I was right after all, somebody else has done it’ and when I turned round to just look at and realise what number it was, it was the one that where, on the North West Frontier when it flew after we did all of the rigging checks, after the major,it was I think left wing low so having rigged it all with a, a positive droop or something the answer was to put I think eight inches of cord on top of the trailing edge of the rear, of the rear part of it. Bolt that on, which put a slight down pressure on. Just a gentle thing, but left wing low again and that’s why I put this quite long piece of stuff on [laughs]. So, the chaps were glad that it’s doing the, still going strong.
PL: Um, um.
FC: But, but when I first went, three of us got posted to Burma.
PL: Right.
FC: For a few weeks.
PL: So why did that happen? Was there just need in Burma?
FC: Well with, with the Air Force, no with the Army if you were in the regiment and down to a platoon, it’s like keeping an aircrew together in the war. These platoons have got to, have got to train together, whereas and they would, they would keep keeping that platoon together. But the Air Force it was all numbers, it was like if they wanted two hundred airframe fitters by that time, they went through their books and we met up with those we’d been training with as recruits. So, the time comes when they needed three chaps in Burma like they would happen. With the units, I mean they, this was another repair and salvage unit so three of us got our rations and I don’t know how long the railway journey took on these hard old wooden seats, where you had your mess tin and you had your loose tea and you went up on the, when the train stopped, you went up to the locomotive, asked the driver for some boiling water for your tea, he would blast this, you want to get out of the way, blast this super-heated steam which is well above boiling point, you know, it’s a super-heated stuff, down a pipe and then run water through it. By the time it came out it was boiling so that was our provision. And then on different stations the Indian fruit sellers were there and cakes and things you could get. So that was at Delhi. We didn’t get to the Taj Mahal we only had a day or two stop there. By the time we reached Calcutta in a big, in a transit camp there where, that’s where we was ventured in to Calcutta find where Thurpos[?] restaurant is and have a lovely meals there. [pause] So, then the, the journey on to where, whereby new unit 131 repair and salvage unit was. We had to go by train and boat and, and truck, across the Brahmaputra that’s right because the — oh the, with the Burma medal, the Burma star it was, it was for people who served East of the Brahmaputra, that was the line, so by the time we — when we got to Dhoapalong, not far from Cox’s Bazar on the Arakan Coast of Burma, the Bay of Bengal Coast. It was an airfield, we were in a lovely area which had bashas, lots of bashas which are huts made of — thatched huts with bamboo, woven bamboo side panels and things like that with, with beds in there. So that was — and then the airfields were Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong and so on. And we were repair and salvage so our task was to be in that position to, to be covering aircraft perhaps, and if you think of that coast, there’s a long beach, seventy miles long on one stretch of that coast, so a great safe landing for the pilot, not all that good for the airplane though, when you had to get there quickly, before the tide came in [laughs] so that was a — and if it was a belly landing job you had to try and lift it to get the undercarriage down and that was a task really and a half. So, but then they were desperate for any aircraft parts to be sent back to, to the big repair depots, that’s where they got their spare parts from. Now when we moved when Akiabyron[?] was taken, just by the Danba[?] Coast, we had an advanced party go down to get our new camp prepared and — oh and then I was tasked to be an escort for spares, going from Chittagong to Akyab and I wore my lovely stone walking out suit that I’d paid a few pounds for when I first landed at Bombay. I wore that and when I had to find somewhere to sleep I think because I was so well dressed, they said the CO is away you can use his tent and his bed. Clean sheets, imagine, this is, we shouldn’t keep the sheets on in case we made them dirty [laughs] now, so typically in the morning, no, there’s no, there’s no aircraft seat for you to return, they’re all jammed up with the wounded but while you’re here if you roll your sleeve up, to see, the [unclear] I think shows your, I was going to say postcode, your blood group.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, there was me in this MASH type forward hospital, laid alongside this soldier, for the first time giving a donation. Well its quite moving in a way and I remember thinking you could, you’ve got your religion here, I said, I’m C of E I wonder if my blood’s alright for him [laughs] thinking that, it set you up to do blood donation. For fifty or more times while I was at Farnborough later on. So that was my, the time when I —
PL: So, they just asked you if you would do a blood donation?
FC: Yes, anybody, any visitor wanted, any visitor they would —
PL: Right. Any visitor came along, and they would ask.
FC: Well, they were desperate days, weren’t they?
PL: Yes.
FC: And the wounded that were carried away in the daks[?], there were so many that were too, too bad to move.
PL: Um, um.
FC: And yet these forward hospitals had a lot, a lot on their plate.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, the only aircraft to come back was a Tiger Moth, a little biplane, a trainer biplane a very old design. So here I was with my, a, a thunderbolt propeller spanners and kit for a Hamilton propeller with that in the rear seat and sitting on the pilot’s parachute because he only had some blankets to sit on. And we were flying a lovely flight really up, just on, just inland of the coast, a nice area to fly in and this big, this big telescopic spanner with a tommy bar, I thought if any Japs come I should point this other weapon [laughs] like a —
PL: So, they’d think it would look like —
FC: Like a forty millimetre gun.
PL: Excellent.
FC: [laughs] So that was the only time I ever wore that suit once I was in Burma because I just put it away and went with a jungle green. So that was when we moved to Akyab that was, we were quite, it was a camp we were in, a flat area, if you — you only had to dig a hole, I mean, not knee deep and it would fill with water. So, you were alright for washing water and [pause] and Thunderbolts, Squadrons. New Thunderbolt Squadrons had moved in so I think the first day I frightened them, four or six of them were, had come from the airfield up the perimeter track around to, to where the runway was and one had got rather to the side of the, of the good ground and it sunk its wheel right up until the wing tip was on the ground so and that was all armed up you see, so we had to, that was our first salvage job to get that back on its, back on its wheels on its feet again but then nothing was damaged so that’s another Christmas tree to us we could take bits off as spares. I remember one chap there with his — he’d got a, I think it was a hydraulic tank all blanked off with a — he was putting air into it to check for bubbles so the only liquid around at the time was an open top had been cut open off a forty five gallon drum, it was a couple of feet of petrol in it so you submerge the tank in it to check for bubbles and somehow, I don’t know, it was stupid really cause you can blow with your mouth, you can blow a pressure of two pounds a square inch, but goodness knows what pressure he put on the tank because it expanded up almost to a ball and so he’d wrecked the tank but it was great for us it was like, it was like a kettle, once we’d left a few blanks on and a spout that was for boiling up our hot water for Crow the engine pit, the engine mechanic who was the butt of everybody’s humour. He would be grinding, grinding up this K rationed chocolate into little crumbs to make cocoa with, so that was a good use for that little tank. But another time, oh, we moved to a better area on a bit higher ground. And then the, the toilets had to be dug. About three barrels deep, a long way down and set up that for a latrine and the, the, they made beds out of telephone wire, bamboo poles and telephone wire, like a, like a grid, no springs but we were off the ground. So, when we moved — but when we were in Dhoapalong before we moved there to Akyab I’d made myself a camp bed. I went into the jungley bit where there was an old, one of our ground tanks abandoned and I used that to do the metal work for the legs of the, of the camp bed. I found an old tarpaulin off a lorry that I took to the [unclear] he was a tailor in the nearest village where he sewed up the canvas for the camp bed which cost me eight annas I think. So that was all it cost me. So that was good to have my own camp bed. And then I had a bed roll, a bed roll where you made your bed to sleep in and then you left it like that and you rolled it all up so you could easily unroll it and hop into it. Like a modern way of doing it I suppose. So Akyab —
PL: So what sort, what sort of date are we talking at now when you were in Burma? What sort of date was it?
FC: It’s in the diary, it’s in, just into forty-five, just into 1945. I got, it’s all in my diary somewhere. In fact, when I put in a claim for this shoulder that had gone wrong after they took, I had lots of cancer operations, they took a big one away from here which attached itself to my shoulder and neck muscles. So, once they took about three hours operation, anyway once that was radiotherapy on it.
PL: Um.
FC: To kill off the cancer, I describe it as a friendly fire that came. It was a risk with anything but certainly to kill the cancer. The fact that my shoulder dropped. This shoulder, the right shoulder has always been two inches lower than the left. Because the neighbour, who sadly died, he was a tailor, registered tailor, one of the top tailors in that line. Do all the Mess kits with their elaborate frogging and gold braid and he was — and he got me to try on the Sultan of Brunei’s Mess kit and Prince Charles’s Mess kit, in fact Len had made the Queen’s scarlet jacket she wore on early parades in London. Horse Guards Parade. He said your right shoulder is two inches lower. Well I didn’t know it. Didn’t realise it.
PL: Um, um.
FC: But in the bathroom with a mirror which shows the tiles behind you, he was right. But now this shoulder has dropped, now this shoulder is lower than this and you’ve gone out a bit out of kilter. And I have constant pain with it.
PL: Oh dear.
FC: My neck, tilts movement and I only got a sixty degree arc to travel through. So, but I, I tolerate pain really quite happily. I got peripheral myopathy in the legs which, which makes my leg burn. I can’t lay down in the day they just burn.
PL: Oh dear.
FC: But I can stand all day.
PL: Um, um.
FC: In fact, when they, when I’m trying to get to sleep and they burn, I’ve only got to lift the leg up, off the weight of the leg even if it’s soft or hard. Lift it up. Oh, it’s marvellous, I wish I could levitate my legs when I sleep. It’s not much to ask, I suppose. But that’s one of the things I’m , so I’m very stoical about that. But anyway, going back to Akyab.
PL: So how long were you there for?
FC: Well it’s —
PL: How did it all draw to a close? I mean it sounds like you became very clever at making something out of —
FC: Out of scraps.
PL: Out of scraps.
FC: Well this was our motto really, there was no job we can’t do was my corporal’s motto. So, you, there was great improvisation really.
PL: Did you have a workshop there? Did you have all the other kit that you —
FC: Well we didn’t have a workshop as such. I don’t, don’t remember much in the way of workshop situation. There’s a marvellous book called “The Bamboo Workshop” and I knew the bloke, the author of it, because in the early get togethers at, at the Albert Hall in London, this is in the early days, 1947 they had already had got together earlier than that, so each year we went to — for a reunion. Oh, anybody in South East Asia was there, you know Burma or beyond. Getting together because we want, we had [emphasis] to be together. You had all that time like, all unified in that in Burma and with all the, I mean it was a million soldiers in, in the fourteenth army, we were part of the fourteenth army. In fact, in, yeah, in General Slim’s book “Defeat into Victory” which tells the story of the defeat and so on. Just in the last chapter there’s a paragraph that stood out to me talking about 221 Fighter Group that, oh no, 224 Group was bombers, we were Fighter Group and then there’s 221, no we were 221, it was 224 on the [unclear]. Anyway it, he talks about the such close working together with the Air Force that we, we considered 221 Group to be, to be part of the fourteenth army.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: So that’s a good feeling really.
PL: Um.
FC: I’ve got newspapers of, we had a daily newspaper in Burma that came up with the rations when they flew rations, dropped rations, or flew them in anywhere. They tried to make a daily paper available which put you in the background of the what the rest of the world was doing as well.
PL: Um. So how long were you there for Frank?
FC: I had, when I joined, well when I was at Akyab, that’s right, that was maybe a couple of months later. I’ve got the dates, but then about a dozen or more of us were transferred to a number three repair and salvage unit, mobile unit which was formed in the Middle East, worked through the Middle East, come through India and then to the Arakan, to, to actually, took you up to Chapalong[?], this nicely set up with the bashas and things. In the book that was written that he wrote, Ranson, Samson, Reg, and he was always asking people in the Albert Hall ‘tell us about your units’. A lot of history and I regretted I didn’t tell him about 131 or number, well number three in the book was in the early chapter. But there were about twenty or more repair and salvage units that worked all across India.
PL: Right.
FC: And all into Burma. We were the number one —
PL: So, was it a sort of lorry, was all the kit, was it in the back, or how did it work?
FC: We were mobile, we had vehicles, we had three tonner lorries. We had high, high load up RAF trailer.
PL: Um, um.
FC: We had mobile workshops with a lathe, its own, it generated its own power a, lathe, a [unclear] I guess, a, but “The Bamboo Workshop” is a book that’s well worth reading.
PL: So, was that about — so, so did you work on the mobile, on, on the mobile unit?
FC: Yes. That was number three, when I was two years then with that unit.
PL: Right. Right.
FC: With the mobile unit. And so, they, when we joined the unit from the other unit, flew in, flew in across the mountains, the Arakan to Magwe I think, to — before they came down. We landed at Segore[?] it’s a Japanese built airfield just on the Mandalay Road up from Meiktila, only a few miles up there and we landed taxied around and the CO met us. Of course, you’re in a litter of damaged, Japanese aircraft and bodies around but the first thing he did because he was keen, ‘Are any of you footballers?’ And of course a lot, a lot put their hands up like they would because later on he formed — how many of us were there. Must have been a dozen football teams.
PL: Good gracious.
FC: And we played on the dirt runway. Not a happy place to come to grief on.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: But he — and then later on Kendrick, Squadron Leader Kendrick, he organised a, a bullet cart race down the runway. He got the locals to [laughs] bring their bullet carts on and the, the CO, Kendrick, he’d had a grass skirt, he’d got a proper grass skirt, but it wasn’t grass it was nylon towrope, glider towrope about as big as your finger I suppose but so strong, but, so the electricians jeep he had a, this for towing because a chain is a typical thing they issue or a cable but that’s solid whereas using, towing a vehicle out of the dirt, or the mud typically.
PL: Um.
FC: The tow vehicle could go forward and gather its strength up, pull on it without a jerk which could stall the engine.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: So that’s what he kept in the back of his jeep, but that disappeared and reappeared as the grass skirt. [laughs] And then he, he thief proofed his jeep, this electrician, so nobody could steal it. And what he, all he did, clever in my terms but simple. He had a change over switch, so what he did he interrupted the cable running down to the horn, horn, cause that’s just thin cable and then the starter one, button on the floor, that’s a, a small cable to trip in the relay to put the power in from the battery.
PL: Right.
FC: It doesn’t take a vast load but he, he got these side by side to the two-way switch. He could start the engine, nobody could start the engine because he’d cleverly moved the two-way switch. So, starting the engine was pressing the horn button, which nobody would have thought about. A thief especially. And the, the button on the floor, he — I think it you easily found with your foot. He put a little top hat shaped bracket over it with a hole in the middle to guard it, as a guard really.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: But it meant that he could casually go down and press that button to, to plug the hole.
PL: Goodness, gracious me. So, what happened next Frank? So, you —
FC: Well this was, we, we got, the unit, number three had just got there the day before and put up their old tents and all the place, the only place we could sleep was on the, in the cookhouse tent. That big hundred and eighty pounder tent, tent. So, we soon got fixed up with a tent and settled in. What were we up to there? Oh yeah. Meiktila in lower central Burma on top of the plains. There were eight airfields the Japanese had built. Pre-war there was one at Toungoo a bit further on the Rangoon Road, off the Rangoon Road but the one we were on had a marvellous runway, cambered enough to keep the water off.
PL: Um.
FC: And stop any pools developing whereas the perimeter tracks being flat, there were pools that, puddles and pools on that but they, but they’d excavated massive monsoon ditches and big storage ditches. Plus, they’d got the locals doing it all.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, it was, it was operable and they had their control tower up on, on poles on the, the, the trees. Well, well designed that was. And also, where the standing trees were, they got earth embankments to make a huge shaped pen to put the aircraft in.
PL: Right.
FC: So that on one occasion I was working on a Spitfire in this, in this pen. There was standing trees they’d left which was good for shade, you see. I was working on this Spitfire, sometimes if you had to put another tail unit on, you had to crawl down, you would support the aircraft prop, crawl down to uncouple the cables, trim the cables and the rudder and elevator cables and then the transport bolts on the, that took the, the front half, forward half to the rear half, a row of transport bolts to take out. That was rather a hot job. But this particular time I wasn’t there doing that when I was working on something on a little bench, it was a metal one, when, and I’d noticed this Hurricane with its forty-millimetre cannon parked outside and suddenly these cannons were firing right through the trees bringing branches down.
PL: [gasps]
FC: And I ducked under this little tiny bench and it went on and on and on. It seemed to go on forever but in fact I think their magazine holds about fifteen rounds. But if you think of [clapping] going on for — it seemed forever. We went around to see who’d, who’d fired this and standing in the cockpit a bit shame faced was the instrument man. He had put a new film in the cine camera which you matched up to the firing, put a new film in it, put the camera in, he [laughs] the Spitfire control column has a spade, spade shape, well that’s it. Suitable for your right thumb and the gun button has a guard around it.
PL: Right.
FC: So, if you’re working in the cockpit and pull it towards you and if you surround it you won’t set it off. But you’ve got the guard, you move it to a test position and then press it, that’s what he should’ve done, test. What he did was put it on full fire listening for this little whir of the camera and he’d got, fired this lot off and I think he, he was paralysed, he must of thought who’s doing that when it suddenly happened.
PL: Oh dear.
FC: But he kept his thumb on the button obviously.
PL: [gasps]
FC: And luckily, goodness knows where the shells were finishing up, a mile or two or more away. Because it fires about a two pound in effect a bullet.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: And they can be explosive ones as well.
PL: Um, um, um. That’s amazing.
FC: So that was — and we came around and everybody in the unit came round and the cooks as well and the CO come up in his jeep. So that he had to explain by Mr Neal who we called guns, called him guns after that.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: But particularly with the Spitfire, I mean the Hurricanes are totally big high aircraft on the ground a Spitfire is lower down so with the muzzles of the cannons.
PL: So luckily.
FC: You can be like a labourer leans on his spade, you drape your arm over that and it’s happened to people — those have been fired.
PL: [gasps]
FC: Been fired accidentally.
PL: Oh, my goodness.
FC: Maybe twenty millimetres [unclear] there. So, you see tail wheeled aircraft like the Hurricane and aircraft of that day, if they accidentally fire, they’re, they’re set up to about ten or fifteen degrees.
PL: Um.
FC: With a modern aircraft, tricycle undercarriage nose wheel, they’re parallel to the ground and if they fire any of those things of course, it’s just the height.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: To be aware of. So, you wouldn’t walk in front of an aircraft. [laughs]
PL: So, were there many accidents?
FC: I don’t remember many luckily, no, but it’s a warning when there were, to those around and you work safely.
PL: Um, um.
FC: Yeah, I’ve got all my fingers and thumbs. We had to — the one Spitfire that had a damaged wing we got the wing off another of our Christmas tree wrecks and fitted it. Now the pneumatics were connected up, the pneumatic pipes on the route end of the wing. And, now Rolls Royce can put the whole shape into the pipe on a, on a piece of paper but in those days the pipe was just lazily bent to a sort of “S” shape which is kind to the pipe you see but when you’ve got a whole group of them coming up like this from one wing and you take it off and you’ve got to put on another you see, easy to — so when the — right, when I went to test it, right, clutch down, hiss of the flaps. One flap went down and it copped, cropped the cannons in the wing so I thought to myself, that’s a problem with no labelling you see.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, this is a lesson that —
PL: Um, um.
FC: You label everything. But if you got the one wing off another aircraft without thoughts [pause] anyway that’s a lesson.
PL: Um.
FC: And then the — yes, we were detached. They had, typically the unit had the main, main base somewhere and with up to six or eight mobile repair sections, MRS’s and for instance, the one that I was on, number four, we had a crane, a Coles crane, a typical RAF one of the day. We had three tonners, jeeps and [pause] and what else did we have? I don’t know. I forget now. But at one stage — when we moved to Toungoo, that’s it, that was a pre-war airfield, a grass one but it had a big hangar and that hangar the Japs used as a warehouse for rice ‘cause it was — rice was in a huge heap like they pile up road salt nowadays, don’t they. In this hangar, great pile of it, goodness knows how many tons were there, but when we were — I was at Toungoo when the war finished and it was ceasefire and before the ceasefire, I think for eleven in the morning, the noise that morning they were, all these squadrons giving the Japs a good hammering and the, beside the airfield these big guns were firing up into the hills where the Japanese were, but suddenly you were, I don’t know, over awed by the silence because you’d never had, even the little chirpy insects seemed to be stopped. And then you realise the war is over, except the Japs were — they were waiting out Japs for a year after, they kept the West Africans back to, to flush out these Japanese. So, the — luckily the unit had, number three, had followed the, they were at Imphal, on the Imphal Plain with, which has got about eight airfields. The one there was Tollihull[?]. American built, because the American equipment made the road into China across those mountains.
PL: Um.
FC: So, when they were given the length of the runway as, whatever it was, five thousand feet or something, no, five thousand feet, that can’t be right, they must mean yards. Whatever it was it, it was the hugest longest runway but marvellous really because if you had an aircraft come to grief on it there’s plenty more of it.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: Whereas on a shortish run you’d have to clear the wreck off to make room.
PL: Um, um.
FC: For the newcomers.
PL: So, after the end of the war, what was your experience between the war ending and coming back? I mean were you involved with the decommission of aircraft or — ?
FC: Well in Burma we were — my unit was, was chosen to be part of the British Commonwealth occupation force to occupy demilitarising the Japanese.
PL: Right.
FC: So, our unit was chosen, being the top one with experience, but we, we, we will go there, we backed up the three Spitfire squadrons. There was a number four Indian squadron and number four and, no number eleven and seventeen squadrons, well, they operate the top aircraft. Now they have had an almost uninterrupted history from world war one. I mean they stand them down sometimes when they have got to get a new aircraft and when they stand up again the unit with the new aircraft. That’s the way they work. But that was a marvellous unit.
PL: So, you stayed on for a while?
FC: Well we were — yes, you could, you could opt out of going to Japan so in fact we were volunteers and there were two thousand RAF volunteers to go there with us, my unit as support and the Spitfires were rounded up from where ever the war left them and put on an aircraft carrier because we were going off in December forty-five but the, they loaded up this carrier with it, all these aircraft and they were on that carrier for six months. We couldn’t get the shipping we couldn’t get the three ships. We needed three ships with all the squadrons and equipment and stuff of ours.
PL: Um.
FC: Well the small ships of the day, so when we did — while we were there in Burma a hugest hole in the world that I have ever seen was made by the Indian engineers to dump all the aircraft in. A huge trench, if you like, ramping down each, up and down each side. So, we [clears throat] had a like fun which you would think of as fun putting all the Japanese wrecks in there.
PL: Um.
FC: And then our Spitfire useless parts.
PL: Um.
FC: So that occupied our time and they were tidying up Burma in fact when we, and Meiktila is quite near Upping Lake for swimming and typically we had the Spitfire overload tank as an actual raft and then drop tanks and we had the blow up you know plate of all assault dinghies to swim from and that pal of mine who was, er, he was, he was a Geordie but he spent all his time in another part of the country until he came into the air force and he had a camera, as I had, so we took a few pictures between us but when it came to develop and print and the fixer, the, sadly some of the photos have faded away.
PL: Ummm.
FC: Actually, faded away. But I am digressing there. But, that’s right we went to, to Toungoo in the — we were there when, when the war finished. So that was a tidying up time.
PL: Um, um.
FC: Then the, the, the jeeps were modified with rail wheels ‘cause the, it’s the same railway, it’s an old, the old pictures, the old carts of the old days the ruts they make you’ve got to stay in the rut and this is what the blessed trains are. Brunel had the right idea, what’s it, eight foot broad not four foot —
PL: The Western, the Western Railway.
FC: Yes, not the four foot eight and a half inch silly things but then that’s, that’s what’s happened all round the world they kept to that silly measurement.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, we tidied up Burma into this big hole and then we went swimming and then the order came the Burmese want all the scrap metal they can get hold of. Especially aluminium.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, we had to winch and drag and hoick these things out of the trench.
PL: Out of the hole.
FC: Onto tank transporters [laughs] lash them down to take them, go onwards to the scrap yard.
PL: So, having filled the hole you then had to empty the hole [laughs]
FC: That’s why stories go back people have seen the aircraft in the hole they know it’s real.
PL: Um.
FC: As people left, they’d tell the tale
PL: Um, um.
FC: And this business of crates being buried, well [pause], crates weren’t sent to Burma they were sent to India, Bombay maybe and shipped across. The aircraft had to be erected, test flown and, and it, you didn’t have facilities to do that in Burma.
PL: When you said crates?
FC: Crates, big boxes.
PL: What does that mean?
FC: Well big boxes.
PL: Big boxes of parts and things?
FC: The whole thing is in a box.
PL: Right.
FC: For instance, in Japan we had I think six or was it four, Harvards that came all boxed up.
PL: Right.
FC: So —
PL: Like giant Meccano?
FC: Well, no, no, no they were complete aircraft.
PL: Complete aircraft?
FC: No, no well as complete as they could be. Their wings were off.
PL: Right, ok.
FC: And the engines and the tail.
PL: Right, but everything else came in the box?
FC: To get it in the crate, yes.
PL: Good gracious.
FC: Now this, when we were erecting and testing these, test flying these Harvards, they’d been in that packing box for about three years and then Jim, my good friend, the engine fitter he built up the — got the engine on and built, coupled it all up and did everything like that. He wanted to do the engine run, he was desperate to do an engine run you see.
PL: Um.
FC: Now the Aussies had Mustangs, new Mustangs. We had old Spitfires. The Kiwis had their Corsair a big American goal wing thing.
PL: Um.
FC: We had the Spitfires so there was a bit of leg pulling between us and but once we got this Harvard outside, Sergeant Robinson our Sergeant said to Jim I shall run this, you know, pulling rank on him [laughs]. Although Jim had done all the work. Anyway, as we started up, I think Jim was standing, standing just by the cockpit I think, just started up the engine, just started up and there was a, there was a bit of a bang from the cockpit and this instrument glass had blown out and hit him.
PL: [gasps]
FC: And what it was, two pipes had crossed you see. The suction pipe and the pressure pipe, this little pipe across there — the pump should have been, the instrument was driven by suction.
PL: So, was he all right?
FC: And then Sergeant Robinson didn’t want to do any more engine running he let Jim do it [laughs] so Jim’s doing all the others making lots — the Harvards makes a wicked noise the propellers make an awful noise.
PL: Um.
FC: As you know. But —
PL: So how did it all end for you Frank? How did you sort of — what was the beginning of the end and heading home?
FC: Well that was once we were in Japan you see, we —
PL: What was it like being in Japan?
FC: Well it was, thinking back it must have been what Japan was like about twenty years before
PL: Um
FC: ‘Cause the Japanese were, until 1945 when the Japanese surrendered in China, ten years that war was. I mean at one time they had all the South East area right up to the North side but when you think about forty million Chinese was killed, what sort of a cope, what do they all the greater cope prosperity sphere or something, fancy name, they made old friends wherever they went.
PL: Um.
FC: With all the murder, I don’t know, same as Germany when all these countries making no friends at all. What sort of empire were they aiming at? You see it’s the few people at the top having it all done for them. They make decisions but in Japan we had earthquakes we were on, I was on guard on the bomb dump which was an area where there were underground aircraft factories. They were stacked up with materials as well.
PL: Goodness me.
FC: But we had a bomb dump there and we were there on guard one night when in the deepest winter. Bad winter of 1947, which happened here, Europe, but also in Japan, roads completely thick with ice. We were sitting, two of us huddled in this little sentry box when we felt it move, ‘somebody out there, you go that way and I’ll go that way’ so we grabbed our rifles but there was nobody there, ‘now what was that all about?’, but it was the earthquake, just tremors just starting. Now just across the road from us there was a big lagoon but it was thick with ice, you see, because we were trying to break it by finding, throwing big rocks on it but when the earthquake started it made this ice crack up. So, we had our little bit of fun there with an earthquake and then once, once the three tonner came changing the guard taking us back. In the guard room a big demijohn full of rum, but you were only supposed, not to have any before you went on guard, just after you came out so I, my pint mug, I had a couple of fingers of it in there I suppose and of course when you’re on guard room you only take your boots off and get in bed, which doesn’t warm the bed up properly because you were [unclear] anyway I had this rum, finished it off and was then, I was in a dream that I was on a sailing ship because of all the creaking and movement, I was in a sailing ship in my dream and I opened one eye and the, the light was swinging and moving like this, I realised what it was so I — there was a Sikh chap with his turban on just sitting up in bed he said ‘I think it’s an earthquake’ and I don’t think he took his boots, and he slide the window open, they were sliding windows not fitting very well.
PL: Um, um.
FC: And jumped down onto the ice and the snow, well, frozen snow, and a lot of thundering of boots [noise of footsteps] coming down the stairs of the upstairs and it was dangerous too because it was, the lights fused, the lights went out and then there was some scaffolding along inside the building so it restricted the — but they all went out and I thought, I’ve had four, four hours guard out there so I’ll stay here.
PL: [laughs]
FC: But was dangerous really.
PL: Oh goodness.
FC: But the buildings are made, I realised when there was not a lot of damage by the American bombing naturally and not uninhabitable in fact we were in tents when we went to Japan. Now when we had left Burma the big transit camp down in Rangoon was so cold that they found a new area to put the tents up in. The Japanese prisoners put those up, like they would.
PL: Um.
FC: So I had my camp bed, everything else was on a vehicle for loading, so happily in the camp bed when was awoken by the tent having collapsed inward, almost collapsed down inward, because, well it was new tent that, which we’d never seen before, ours were awful old tents, this was a new one but you can imagine new rope and the tent pegs weren’t hammered in very much, very deep because the ground was so hard. But nobody had put tents there before it was in the area that flooded.
PL: Oh.
FC: So, we had a good two inches of water around our feet, so that was — I, when I wrote it up later, I thought, yeah, suppose the boot was on the other foot, think if the British were prisoners, the Japanese were going to their homeland and we put their tents up which had fallen down, it wouldn’t have been any laughing matter. We could laugh with the Japanese in the morning.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: When it came, but not if it had been a different tale wouldn’t it?
PL: Um.
FC: So, our welcome in Japan was to be in tents again. Cherry blossom time I think later on. They were coolie, it was a flying boat station as well as an airfield with a big crane so when the aircraft carriers eventually came with their cargo of Spitfires there was this massive dock side crane. And then they were, we were divided up into working parties. There was some on the aircraft carriers and then some on the lighters, the big barges that they brought in, I don’t know three or four at a time and a big hook of this crane dwarfed, you know, dwarfing everybody and they’re dangling, when I wrote it up being a bit poetic.
PL: Um.
FC: And, about their first landing in Japan from the crane. And we had no tractors, we had no tow bars, don’t know if we had steering arms. They had to be pushed to the airfield about two, two miles away.
PL: Gracious.
FC: One at a time. Now, Bas, my corporal, when there was — jumped down into the lighter that had come in the barge to a hooker, he said ‘we, we got more help here’ and I can’t remember them introducing me to him properly, might have been Peter, but anyway he was stripped off. He was a moon man, you know, one with, with, a pasty chap who’d not been out in the sunshine much, but very willing and we worked together. I was telling him all about the unit, telling him about all the wheezes we could get for a, if you flogged your cigarettes down in the town you had a, each cigarette would more or less buy you a bottle of beer in the canteen you know, things like this.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: Like you would [emphasis] tell a newcomer.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: So, when the, when the last Spitfire got moved off and went back into this little workshop by the hangar where, where tops, and when I reached up from my NAC jacket, when he brought it, he was the new group captain. [laughs]. Telling him all the fiddles we could get up to.
PL: [gasps]
FC: But I mean, he, he and he said something like, it was a marvellous introduction to my new station. When I didn’t realise what he meant new station until that’s what he was.
PL: Oh no.
FC: [laughs] But then —
PL: So, did you get into trouble?
FC: Oh no. No, no. I mean he’d have been flannelled. If, if an officer or any — he’d have had a lot of flannel wouldn’t he. Well, this was honest, he knew we wanted to get the aircraft, wanted to have the aircraft, our aircaft flying again.
PL: Um, um.
FC: Not what I did at the time. He had the right spirit of us.
PL: Um. So, when you had to take these Spitfires for two miles, was it a question of ropes round everything and people pulling, pushing?
FC: People pulling, people pushing.
PL: Literally, so it was manpower? Were the locals sort of drafted in to help?
FC: They had, they had Japanese labourers. I think there was a requirement for the Japanese to work for the occupation force for so many days a month at least. Because when you think about it, we were getting them the idea that it’s a democratic situation.
PL: Um.
FC: Not rule, what they did as well, all the lords, think of our lords of the manor in our country with all the hard workers, like serfs doing their stuff. All the ground divided up between all these [unclear] a similar thing in Japan. They deposed all these characters, I think they went off to Tokyo for a ticket. But I didn’t know at the time but Air Vice Marshall Bouchier who’s a, our overall commanding officer, officer commanding. He took over this manor house to live in, just a few miles up the river where the Kintai bridge is, it’s a five arch wooden bridge with granite piers its often in photographs and pictures. The Kintai bridge. Now before we went there, we were, we had a pocket book telling you the custom of the country and so on and all sorts of helpful things and we were not supposed to fraternise. No fraternisation, so like you would going down by the river and meeting these Japanese girls we were like sitting on a little beach where the, alongside the river. It was, must have been a nice feeling just be sitting with a girl when you’ve got your book trying to say things and then laughing, you imagine they’re laughing and then they’re trying to read English.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: To know what — but it was only bit of harmless fun really but a good job we didn’t get him outdoors up the river seeing us. So, then the jeep, you see, it’s — we all got around with jeeps at the time. Well think of this five arch bridge taking a jeep over it, well it weighed a couple of tons or something and it’s a wooden bridge meant for foot traffic
PL: Um.
FC: I mean its arched like that and you’ve got very shallow steps and then it curves and so, so it’s a bumpy thing for a vehicle so it was pointed out that the Japanese had been complaining that we should take more care of their old things. Beside it only led you to a park. The Japanese are a great one for parks. That’s to their credit. But Japanese we could, we could walk around at night without any fears around Hiroshima. We didn’t have any fears. We were, felt safer there than we did in parts of India.
PL: So, you, you were at Hiroshima?
FC: Well we were based on the Inland Sea where Hiroshima is based about sixty miles west but that was our nearest place to do some shopping in. And of course, we climbed up the —
PL: What was that like?
FC: Well it was — I was just going to say we climbed I think about an eight-storey building but all that was left was the concrete shell of it, you know, everything else was gone but when you got up there about, perhaps eight floors up and you looked across the city the roads had been cleared. Which showed the grid the patterns of the roads, but it wasn’t long before people went back and claimed their patch and put a little shed thing on it and the shops grew then. There was a dance hall and in fact I got tickets, dance tickets for the hostesses, I’ve still got them, so —
PL: Um.
FC: Whether I was hoping to go back and spend them I don’t know.
PL: [laughs] Goodness me. So, what, what, when would that have been? What year would that have been?
FC: That was 1946.
PL: Right.
FC: Yeah. We were due to go December forty-five, that was delayed right till April I think, forty-six when we landed.
PL: Um, um.
FC: But we needed three ships. Now before, while we were tidying up Burma because what was a good trade for the locals, if you wanted chicken or eggs.
PL: Um.
FC: Was some of your canteen things.
PL: Right, right.
FC: So the word went up that the Japanese were desperate for soap of all sorts.
PL: Right, okay.
FC: And you thought well yes, that’s it. That will be a good trade, so our test pilots one took the Harvard across over the mountains to Chittagong bought up all the soaps he could all sorts of soap and then the other test pilot took it to Cox’s Bazar and along that coast, and other places, getting all the soap he could. Thinking that would be good a trade for the impress money from the unit when we get there to build that up so this was loaded on our trucks. Boxed up and loaded on the trucks and though we had about fifty vehicles I think, they had a job to find drivers for them all. Anyway, everything was aboard and that and I travelled down as a passenger in a very comfortable situation laid on top of the bed rolls in the three tonner and I had, we each had a crate of American beer. Little bottles, little lager type things. And of course, in Burma they were always desperate for bottles because they make their, you know their wines and spirits, using, they need bottles. You had a, if you had a bottle to dispose of and you saw some Burmese there by the roadside you could drop the bottle out into the dust ‘cause there was either six inches of dust or six inches of mud.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So that was the way we travelled. When we, we didn’t go half way to Rangoon and stop and spend the night there because the water, the doctor with us said no that water’s all right that water’s all green. When it’s all green like that its healthy water its only growing good water so, but mostly we drunk it as tea. I think we seemed to get by during the day without a lot of water. We never had water bottles, well we had a little enamel one to hook on your webbing belt, but —
PL: So, what happened with the soap in Japan? Did you manage to sell all the soap?
FC: The mistake was after we loaded the vehicles into this particular ship there was no escort for this, for the truck with the spares and all the equipment no escort on the ship and the dacoits who were the bandits and thieves of Burma lifted all the soap. Now when we got to Japan, we found the boxes had been opened and we, we, we deliberately made a shortage of soap around that area and then the robbers had the soap to sell. So, they must have done, done a lot of, done themselves a lot of good.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: Because I said later whether CID or whatever they were, were trying to investigate the thieves showed a clean pair of heels [laughs] with all that soap.
PL: [laughs] I see.
FC: So, we had — this, oh this earthquake that I was saying about when I was on guard. I went back and that upset the runway. The aircraft in the hangars were damaged.
PL: Right.
FC: They were crashing together, moving together.
PL: Right. Oh no.
FC: So briefly I stayed in bed. But when they were repairing these buildings, I thought those joints, those joints are too loose because they were making the uprights a tenon going into it. A great big slot for it, just with a big peg.
PL: Um. That’s what it was for.
FC: Meant for it.
PL: Right, right.
FC: When you pointed it out to the Japanese. And then one morning [clears throat] oh, we found the Japanese labourers with two big shell cases about six inches, a couple of feet long, I think they were off the cruisers, sunken cruisers in our harbour possibly, they were polishing them. So that evening when we went to, to do our drinking decided what mischief we could do, we thought we’ll get those big, big shell cases, we’ll take those and they were a bit of a heavy weight to carry when you’re a bit tiddly but by the time we were approaching barrack block, ‘H’ shaped barrack block, we were upstairs on the first floor. We didn’t know what to do with them, so the New Zealanders were billeted right below us and we crept, we slowly came in, put one each side of their doorway and crept upstairs to bed, like you would and like you would, I think possibly a weekend, well Saturday, I suppose it was Saturday or Sunday, came down, came out to go to breakfast [clears throat] looked over the balcony and down below it was a static water pool that was meant for, you to supply water for a fire, the Japanese were making a little arrangement of the garden in it. But below they were gathered around these Kiwis, gathered around these, these chaps who were, who had got their Brasso and cleaning them up so in my little write up as we went to breakfast, I said to Jim ‘by now all our fingerprints have gone they have only got Kiwi prints’.
PL: [laughs] Oh dear.
FC: So, they got in trouble, like they would. But that was when we got one over on them you see.
PL: [laughs]
FC: So how do you explain it that we found them there?
PL: Um, um.
FC: We found them there sir.
PL: So, were they engineers as well?
FC: Oh yes.
PL: So, you were all engineers together?
FC: Yeah. Well different trades of course.
PL: Yes, yes, yes.
FC: But they had their own Corsair aircraft.
PL: Right, right. So what sort of things—
FC: Patrolling around the, we, we had a Southwest, South side of the island, main island, the main occupation force was the Americans of course. We were under General MacArthur then.
PL: So, were the Spitfires really just for sort of, you know, keeping an eye on things, reconnaissance and things?
FC: Well they were patrolling around.
PL: Right.
FC: They were watching out that nobody was travelling from Korea, to and fro to Korea, I think.
PL: Right.
FC: But it was to show a presence there.
PL: Um, um.
FC: And then four [pause] 4 Squadron put up, well about four aircraft once and then 11 Squadron put up, 11 Squadron, eleven aircraft. Then what about you 17 Squadron blokes, how many have you got serviceable? I got a panoramic view from the control tower at Miho, this is on the North Coast where you count, I don’t know, how many Spitfires, thirty or something. One is taking off, I took it when one was taking off another one had just fired its Coffman starter cartridge to start the engine at, with a great puff of white smoke so that’s obviously in action, two things in action, and then by the time I’d moved around here to overlap the pictures, there was a view of other Spits and a, one was in the, in the flying position, the armourers were aligning the, synchronising the guns, but the Japanese armourer helping them like you would have to do.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, but then Japanese were pushing, like you were saying pushing, pushing behind the trailing edge. Once there’s enough of you, it was a strong enough area to push. But when, a trick was with the Spitfire, the flaps were taken down by the pneumatic rams and then flaps up, all it did was to let the air out because there was a spring recovery, so when people are pushing like this and you are in the cockpit on the brakes, ready to put the brakes on, pneumatic brakes so it traps up and can trap a few thumbs.
PL: [gasps] Ouch.
FC: Well it was, despite this. On the carriers. The Spitfires on the carriers to get lift for taking off on that short thing, they would have the flaps partly down. Well, in no way you could do that, they were either up or down but what they did, they had blocks of wood, put blocks of wood, let the flaps came up by a spring onto a block of wood. They’d be in the best position to get lift for take off and once they were happily airborne, just flick the flap switch down and up again and they could put the wood before that. So, I’ve got this panoramic view, I thought I must —
PL: And that was taking off from aircraft carriers?
FC: No, no that was taken in a time when they did like in Malta.
PL: Right,
FC: They had to do this didn’t they?
PL: Um.
FC: You know, we had a, one time when the squadron was all worked up, back to working pitch at that time. The operation firepower or something like that. They were bombing up and loading up and doing their firing, live firing. So that was good for the pilots to get that, to get together like that. Do your turn round inspections and arm and rearm.
PL: Absolutely.
FC: So, it was this, these underground aircraft factories, they yielded off some metal and things and we made great — and I made a nice cabinet, wardrobe thing and the bottom shelf had a beer, crown beer bottle opener on with a cigarette tin underneath at the bottom, because it just took a crate a beer. I could lazily reach out, knock the top off you see.
PL: Um, um.
FC: And then they decided because we had to have somewhere to put our kit to make a long wardrobe, the full length of the barrack room out of aluminium and things and so of course you had to be about thoughtful and you had to be careful shutting the doors when people were asleep because of the noise.
PL: [laughs] So when did you get sent home?
FC: This was, demobilisation, you were given a number, a group number, so when group forty was ready, was ready to — that batch of people would be demobilised. When it got to fifty which was mine, we were on a long way up in Japan and [unclear] troop ships every Thursday or something and anyway [clears throat] and then ‘cause was when, oh Jim, that’s right. There was a Sir Geoffrey Depretes[?], an MP of the day came out to talk like a politician would have to do. At this big assembly of us [unclear] Kiwis and the Aussies and us and the Indians so afterwards any questions, so Jim next to me, when I’m, I’m, I’ve not got away in my group, my group, in my group I’m in so the top man boy Boucher, he said see me afterwards and I, I can guarantee you’re on, you’re on the next troop ship so we had a little farewell drink with Jim and we waited on and on and on and the troop ship never came until finally Jim went away on the same ship as we did.
PL: Oh my goodness. So, when was that?
FC: That was 1947.
PL: Gosh that’s a long-time getting home.
FC: So, from 1942 they hung onto me. Well if you think of it in April forty-seven the war over in Germany was over a couple of years nearly.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, we did a long stint. We didn’t do a four-year tour because prior to that they brought the four year down to three and a half and then three and then two and a half which was what I did.
PL: Um, um.
FC: So, tour expiry came as same as that. On the North West frontier when it was on the cooler times a lot of the old ones still had a dog collar RAF uniform, they didn’t want to part with it. They didn’t want a blessed collar and tie they wanted to show that they were old stages.
PL: Um.
FC: So, my tunic is upstairs. I’m letting out the seams. So, I’m looking forward to wearing it when the centenary of the RAF is in April coming.
PL: Fantastic.
FC: So, I came out you see of Japan back to Blackpool again because we were based, we were in Nissen huts at Kirkham in the tail end of that 1947 winter. When the first thing they did when we got to Kirkham there was a stove in the middle of the Nissen hut you kept burning hopefully. They took our greatcoats away.
PL: Oh.
FC: First thing they did.
PL: Why?
FC: So, we wouldn’t flog them.
PL: Oh, for goodness sake.
FC: But we wouldn’t have flogged them. We wouldn’t have, would we?
PL: You’d have worn them.
FC: Would happily take them back in the summer.
PL: [laughs]
FC: [laughs] That would be a different tale.
PL: Goodness me.
FC: So that was Blackpool again.
PL: Um.
FC: So, we had a, had a fair bit of time at Blackpool in between other things. Yes, sorry, then I had three months leave to take paid leave. Well, you didn’t have to take it. I had three months paid leave. So, I had no leave when I was aboard. I had the old rest camp in Japan at Kobe, above Kobe at the, on the hill was a nice maiko it means Japanese dancer, I think. Where we had Japanese food and when the rice came, I wanted some jam on the rice because I had never had rice at home unless it had -
PL: Oh, jam on, oh, wonderful.
FC: We were squatting on low, I’ve got pictures on the low tables of girls, all nicely made up and dressed. So that was Japan.
PL: So, what, so when you got home what was your career after the war? Just very briefly because you’ve been so generous with your time.
FC: Well I didn’t want to — I had so much time using, working repairing things and making and mending things. I didn’t want to go back to reporting because really quite honestly I mean for a fourteen-year-old boy to come as to be reporting, it would be better for a grammar school boy to start because he’s got, his mind is trained and he’s got a lot of advantages. So, I — there was a job, I took all my three months and hadn’t done anything about — I knew I didn’t want to go back but the RAF newspaper, I was in the RAF Association magazine, advertising for trade engine and airplane, air people for Boscombe Down and Farnborough. So, I came to Boscombe Down when they wanted — and they had just taken on, if you can imagine, like a queue in a way, they had just taken the last one on when I arrived, so I went on to Farnborough to the Royal Aircraft Establishment as it was, who needed sixty, or it needed quite a lot of staff. So that was where I —
PL: So that’s how you ended up here?
FC: Yes, that’s it, that’s what brought me to Farnborough and the experimental flying squadron with all the different aircraft from Lincolns and Yorks, the, the Hudsons. We had the, had the sea fliers the Spitfires. The naval flight was there so it was exciting times when they were launching and arresting. Quite exciting times. Because at the end of the hangar was a big assembly that was the sort fitted on a ship to, to catapult them off and the Spitfire with four big rockets attached like under its armpits. The engine fitter had to go up there and run the engine, all engines had to be run every morning, typical wartime thing, so Farnborough must’ve been a noisy place.
PL: Um.
FC: With the Halifax’s and everything.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: But anyway, the engine man hated having to go up there. It was perched in the middle of the sky it —
PL: Yes, yes.
FC: And then another time a bit later when the Korean war was on, I think, we had a Sea Fury on the, on our radio flight operating that one. That had to be put in the twenty-four-foot wind tunnel. They must have had trouble in Korea with the certain stores they were carrying or something, I don’t know what it was. Then my good friend who joined up the same day as me in Oxford, now, he was the engine man and he didn’t like being in the wind tunnel where they got a full bore and in with, sitting in with the engine going full bore.
PL: Um, um, um, um.
FC: But that was the typical thing they did.
PL: Um. So that must have been a very interesting life. How long, how long did you?
FC: Well I was there forty years.
PL: Wow. Gosh.
FC: Till 1988. And then of course it’s, it’s about a hundred years ago since I retired now because it’s, it will be thirty years next year won’t it? Three and four.
PL: It feels a little like we need to come back and speak to you again Frank about your, your experience testing, in Farnborough.
FC: Oh yeah.
PL: And your career doing that.
FC: Oh yeah. We did fly, did fly the Lincoln up to Valley, RAF Valley and they were, the Window, you know they drop Window these aircraft. Because various sorts, sizes of it. The worst one comes in packs which you daren’t disturb in a, in a dispenser thing on the wing tips of a, of a Canberra and if you drop one the pack all busted open because they were only about ten millimetres long, a little tiny bit of aluminium, ‘V’ shaped that way and then ‘V’ shaped that way.
PL: Was this for the —
FC: They spun.
PL: Right and this was to confuse the —
FC: This was to put something that looked like an aircraft.
PL: Oh right, right.
FC: And in fact, on ‘D’ Day, teams of RAF aircraft were flying in a pattern like this.
PL: Um.
FC: And dropping Window.
PL: Um, dropping them
FC: So that to their screens it looked like there was an armada of things coming. Well they knew how to confuse. But the one that went to, I was dumping this stuff out of the, the chute and there were ack-ack firing behind, firing at us behind. I thought, I hope they keep firing at that — and when we’d circled and landed at Valley the last bundles that must have been hooked up or something littered the airfield because I remember they were black and gold, or black and yellow, long. So, we were there for the weekend. We came on the Saturday, Sunday they had all the RAF out in a long line.
PL: Picking them up.
FC: [laughs] Doing the foot plod, picking them up. Nothing to do with me [laughs]
PL: Oh Frank, thank you so much that has been an absolutely fascinating interview.
FC: I’ve been linked up with FAST Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum to keep the heritage of Farnborough’s flying alive.
PL: Fantastic.
FC: We’ve built a replica of the first aircraft to fly. Fifty-two-foot span. Quite an impressive thing. So that draws a lot of people to see and learn about Cody, Sam Cody.
PL: Um, um, um.
FC: So, there’s another story in that.
PL: Um. Well I’d just like to end by saying a huge thank you on behalf of the Bomber Command Digital Archive because it’s been such a valuable, valuable interview. So, thank you very much indeed.
FC: Thank you. Well you’re welcome to my diaries as well.
PL: Thank you very much.
FC: Couple of years there, ok?
PL: I’ll pass that on.
FC: Thank you, yeah.
PL: Thank you.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Frank Colenso,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 26, 2024,

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